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Orioles land pair of infielders in Rule 5 draft

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From the draft that gave us Orioles legends like Ryan Flaherty and Joey Rickard, two new picks emerges: Richie Martin and Drew Jackson.

Baltimore Orioles Introduce Mike Elias - News Conference Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

General managers come and go, but for the Orioles, the Rule 5 draft is forever. The new Mike Elias regime took the opportunity of having the #1 pick in Thursday’s draft to add a new hopeful O’s contributor, selecting shortstop Richie Martin from the Athletics organization.

In a move somewhat reminiscent of his predecessor, Elias also took the opportunity to trade for another Rule 5 pick, acquiring infielder Drew Jackson in exchange for international signing bonus slot money. Jackson had been picked by the Phillies from the Dodgers organization.

Martin, who turns 24 later this month, was drafted by the Athletics with the #20 pick in the 2015 draft. That’s five spots ahead of a current Oriole, outfielder DJ Stewart. The righty-batting Florida product never posted an OPS higher than .700 in any of his first three minor league seasons, which may be why the Athletics felt like they didn’t need to add him to their 40-man roster to protect him from the draft as he became eligible this year.

The 2018 season saw a bit of a late bloom for Martin. In his second crack at Double-A Midland in the Texas League, Martin batted .300/.368/.439 over 118 games. He stole 25 bases, though he was caught 10 times, so the skill may not quite be there.

Another concern is a lack of home run power. Even in his “breakout” season this year, Martin hit just six home runs, which was a new career high for him. If MLB pitchers don’t fear your power, finding success at the plate is going to be difficult.

The hope is probably that he will field well enough to make up for the hitting. The MLB Pipeline report on Martin’s defense from 2016, when he ranked as the #6 prospect in the A’s system, just behind now-Oriole Renato Nunez:

Martin’s impressive range is a product of his athleticism and plus speed, and scouts rave about his first-step quickness as well as his overall instincts. His arm is a clean fit at shortstop and enables him to make highlight-reel plays, but he can also get rid of the ball quickly while on the move without sacrificing accuracy.

Martin was the #12 ranked prospect in the Athletics system in the most recent ranking before being drafted by the O’s today.

If those turn out to be his defensive capabilities at the MLB level, the rebuilding Orioles can surely find a way to use him for the next few years. Bat him 8th or 9th and see what happens. It’s not like there’s a near-MLB-ready shortstop prospect who Martin would be blocking with his presence next season.

Jackson, 25, also looks to be in the infield mix. The 25-year-old righty batter was picked from Stanford in the fifth round of the 2015 draft by the Mariners. Like Martin, Jackson’s ceiling has been Double-A up to this point, though unlike Martin, the 2018 season was the first full one at the Double-A level. Jackson batted .251/.356/.447 in 103 games for Double-A Tulsa.

Although more of Jackson’s professional innings have been at shortstop than anywhere else, he’s played more second base than shortstop for the past two seasons. Orioles director of baseball operations Tripp Norton, who’s thus far held on during the transition from Duquette to Elias, compared the versatility in Jackson’s skill set to Ryan Flaherty.

There’s a little flexibility here. If the O’s end up liking both of these guys, there could be room for both, and it might leave the O’s in a bit better of a position to explore a trade of Jonathan Villar as well.

As Rule 5 picks, Martin and Jackson will be subject to the standard roster restrictions. In order for the Orioles to fully obtain the rights of either player, they must keep him on the MLB roster or disabled list all of next season, and if he isn’t on the active roster for at least 90 days, however many days are left on the requirement would roll over to the 2020 season.

We’ll have to see how much, if any, of the Dan Duquette brand of comical devotion to keeping a Rule 5 draft pick is shared by Elias and company. Last year’s selection of reliever Pedro Araujo was yet another example.

Though he was 24 when drafted, Araujo had pitched only one game higher than the A-level before being swept up to the big leagues by the O’s. Things did not go very well, with the O’s stubbornly trying to hold on to Araujo even as he struggled greatly with command and had little capability for getting MLB hitters out without it.

What made it a Rule 5 obsession for Duquette was that rather than just concede it wasn’t working out and give Araujo back to the Cubs, the O’s placed him on the disabled list with a convenient injury to hide him away. Now Elias’s O’s must start next season with Araujo on the MLB roster or be the ones to offer him back.

Duquette pulled off similar capers with outfielder Anthony Santander and pitcher Jason Garcia. I still wonder if he was mostly just trying to show how smart he was by finding these guys in the low minors. The only problem was that none of them were ever good, so he didn’t look very smart after all.

As a player drafted out of college initially with two years of experience at the Double-A level, Martin is different from the old, weird Duquette experiments. Hopefully different turns out to mean better, although even if the O’s are only successful in finding a stopgap solution for the seasons when they’re expected to be bad, that would be a success.